Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw

It's nearly Thanksgiving. Compared to all the great movies, shows and cartoons that focus on Christmas, there are relatively few programs devoted to Thanksgiving. My favorite Thanksgiving movie of all-time is easily "Planes Trains and Automobiles" (1987). It's something I try to watch every year around this time. Actually, it's a great movie to watch any time of the year. As far as cartoons and Thanksgiving specials, I never really had a favorite, and there never seemed to be to many to even choose from. I suppose The Peanuts cartoon "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" (1973) is probably at the top (especially because of the ridiculous Thanksgiving dinner Snoopy engineers featuring toast and popcorn!). But that show pales in comparison to the classic Peanuts specials that are featured both before and after Thanksgiving: "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (1966) and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965). Other than the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and all the football games, the holiday seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to movies and shows.

A few years ago I became aware of the cartoon special "The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw" (1980). Because of my long time interest in Bigfoot I just had to see this one. One of the libraries in our area had the cartoon on VHS and I borrowed it. It seemed strange that I had not seen this when it aired in 1980. I would have been eleven at the time and it seems like it would have been right up my alley. When watching the VHS tape of the show it did seem somewhat familiar. Perhaps I had seen it and had forgotten it. Or perhaps the fact that I watched the tape couple times made it start to seem familiar to me even though it really wasn't. Either way, I liked the show and had a feeling that The Little Monster would enjoy it as well. I wanted to introduce Bigfoot to her at some point, but didn't want to frighten her off or give her nightmares with something too scary. "The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw" turned out to be the perfect way to give her a bit of Bigfoot-related material without terrorizing her. We regularly read Berenstain Bears books at bedtime so she was already familiar with them. We first watched "Bigpaw" together three years ago when she was three years old. It has since become a regular thing that comes out around Thanksgiving--and occasionally at other times during the year. About a year after first watching the show I found an old VHS tape of it at a book sale at our local library for about a quarter or so. It may have been the very same tape we had watched earlier.

My ancient VHS tape of the show
This year I introduced the show to The Tiny Creature (The Little Monster's little sister) for the first time. She seemed to like it too. They both found it just a tiny bit scary the first time they watched it. That's the perfect reaction. While it's hard as an adult to imagine watching something as kid-friendly as this and finding it scary, that's exactly what I love about the innocent imagination of children (and what I miss about myself now that I'm a grown-up). It's what makes watching old bad monster movies that you'd only laugh at as an adult a thrilling and scary experience as a kid.

The Little Monsters watching the show

The story is about how Bear Country has a Thanksgiving legend about a creature that will come to town and destroy everything if the bears "become selfish and greedy, and unkind to the needy, and insufficiently thankful for nature's great bounty". Mama bear realizes that the legend is coming to pass when she sees a big pawprint in a pan while "reading the harvest honeycomb".

The harvest honeycomb's frightening harbinger of doom for Bear Country

And the actual footprint of the legendary Bigpaw!

Of course the whole point of the story is to teach a lesson about being a good and thankful person. Bigpaw makes his appearance and inspires fear and hatred in the bears. It turns out that he's actually nice, and it's a big misunderstanding. This recalls another lesson that I've been pointing out to The Little Monster in a lot of the books that I read to her at bedtime, namely that you can't judge a book by its cover.

Here's the townspeople discovering that Bigpaw is on his way

Bigpaw makes his first appearance in the show

He certainly makes an imposing impression

But Brother and Sister Bear quickly learn the true nature of the monster

Brother and Sister enter the ominous Sinister Bog

Bigpaw makes his debut and sings his very catchy theme song

Brother and Sister Bear are the first to realize the truth about Bigpaw when they encounter him in Sinister Bog, but of course the grown-ups won't listen to them. Everything comes to a head as an army of bears climb the nearby mountain to do battle with Bigpaw. He is up at Echoing Ledge merely relaxing at and preparing to take a nap by his campfire, but the amplified echoes of his yawns and the enlarged image of his shadow as he stretcthes projected by his fire make him seem every bit as fearsome as everyone already believes he is.

Bigpaw relaxing at Echoing Ledge...

...And the terrifying image of his shadow that Papa Bear sees

Bigpaw prepares to topple a stack of boulders onto his attackers, but stops when he notices that Brother and Sister are in the path of the rocks. He saves them and everyone realizes the truth about Bigpaw. They then invite him to join them for Thanksgiving dinner.

I still wonder if I saw this show when it first aired. It certainly became pretty rare in the years since. Now it's one of my (and The Little Monster's) favorite holiday programs. I never read a lot of Berenstain Bears books as a kid, but really like reading them to The Little Monster now. My VHS tape of "The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw" is very old, but I'm pretty sure that it's now available on DVD. One of these days I might just have to get a new copy. If you have kids (or are a kid at heart yourself) it might be worth checking the show out too. Here it is (in four parts) on YouTube:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

One last thing. We just watched "The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw" for the first time this Thanksgiving season yesterday. The Little Monster is now in Kindergarten and the students all visit the school's little library once a week to take out a book. Yesterday (knowing that we were planning on watching the show when she got home from school) she picked out "The Berenstain Bears' Thanksgiving" as her book. It is actually a retelling of "The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw" with a different (more commercial?) title. It even has a lot of the same dialogue that is in the show. I don't know if the book or the show came first, but I was pretty happy to see that The Little Monster had brought it home with her. After watching the show after school I ended up reading the book to her at bedtime.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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